Okotokian a Master adventurer

Athletics: Claire Perks prepares for first race in Europe

By: By Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 13, 2012 09:38 pm

Claire Perks gets to experience a multitude of sports, from kayaking to mountain biking to repelling during her adventure races around the globe.
Claire Perks gets to experience a multitude of sports, from kayaking to mountain biking to repelling during her adventure races around the globe.
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For some people swimming laps a few times a week is akin to a serious test of conditioning, not so for an Okotoks adventure athlete.

As an adventure athlete — a competition involving a plethora of endurance athletics — Claire Perks has learned to savour her sessions at the Okotoks pool during her two years with the Okotoks Masters.

“Swimming is my recovery workout,” said Perks. “I swam for 13 years and I can get into the water and it feels like home.

“All the running and mountain biking is pretty hard on your body, it’s a lot of pounding and swimming just works all that out for me,” she added.

Adventure racing is a mental and physical challenge in a team-based setting which can vary from one-day races or seven to 10 day treks.

“The main component is orienteering. You get a map with different points on it and you have to figure out the best route to get there,” Perks explained. “You could look at a mountain and say that’s the north facing slope so we’ll have more trees and that’s the south facing slope so it will be thinner so let’s go around the back side and come at it this way. That’s the biggest thing, the strategy of how to navigate.”

However, there’s more to adventure racing than simply picking the route of

least resistance.

“In between that you have any kind of discipline they want to throw at you,” she said.

“The core ones are mountain biking, trail running and hiking and paddling — that can be kayaking, canoeing, whitewater rafting or it could be anything.”

Adventure racing also often includes repelling, zip lines, ascenders, horseback riding and even rollerblading. Perks got a taste of the rally car lifestyle during her BAJA Travesia, a grueling five-day event in which racers cross Mexico’s Baja Peninsula from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Cortez.

“We crossed the Baja desert where they have the Baja 500 course so we got to race the rally cars across the desert,” Perks said.

With the variety of activities adventure racers endure and the incredible lengths to which they’re pushed, fitness is at a premium, but it’s not the only quality participants need.

“Obviously you need a great deal of endurance fitness,” she said. “But, the races can be anything from four hours to 10 days so anything 36 hours and under is considered a sprint race.”

Races lasting more than three days are called expeditions.

“You pretty much go without stopping at all, if you’re tired you find a nice patch of grass and you sleep for an hour, but there are no sleeping quarters,” Perks said.

“So your pace is actually not that fast, your biking and walking is at a moderate pace... really what it comes down to is long endurance and mental toughness.”

The sport is derived from the ECO Challenge, an endurance competition brought to the forefront by television executive Mark Burnett, who produced the Survivor series based on the bickering witnessed from teams struggling to cope with the challenges of the race.

For Perks, keeping things light on her team is essential to the experience. The pleasure gleaned from such arduous adventures is ultimately contingent upon the people you race with, said Perks who has been adventure racing for six years.

Perks competes with the four-person Team Hilarious alongside long-time teammate and Calgarian Nicki Rehn and a rotating duo of teammates.

“Our team — we like to laugh our heads off and tell stories,” Perks said. “It makes the miles just roll by whereas the other teams like Team Nike, the number one team in the world they don’t talk at all.

“When you’re in serious pain and your feet hurt and you have blisters, where you have sleep deprivation if you’re not having fun then it just freaking hurts.”

A touch of serendipity pushed Perks into the realm of adventure racing.

“I ended up working for an outdoor brand that does flip flops, performance socks and insoles and I eventually became their marketing manager and that company sponsored adventure racing,” said Perks, who witnessed the Primal Quest series first hand.

“I went down to go manage the sponsorship and saw what people do and it’s just looked like so much fun.”

While most folks would have some trepidation about jumping head first into such a demanding sport, Perks had the benefit of a dynamic background in athletics to draw upon. She swam for the University of Calgary swim club before earning an athletic scholarship to swim for the Simon Fraser University Clan. During her tenure at the Burnaby, B.C. school Perks was a sponsored athlete who represented Canada at international meets. After her swimming peaked, she set course for the Maritimes for more student athletics at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. where she played rugby for two years with the Acadia Axewomen.

Now, she’s preparing for another trip to the east coast.

Perks was selected to join a Virginia-based team for the upcoming world qualifying event Untamed New England, a five-day race in Maine and through the Appalachian mountain chain, from June 19-24.

“You have to place top-three at a qualifier,” Perks said of the requirement for advancing to the world championships, held in L’Argentière-la-Bessée, France from Sept. 14-22.

In the meantime, Perks and Rehn are preparing for Tor Des Geants a pure mountain running race of 350km lasting seven days in Italy in September.

“It has 80,000 feet of gain meaning that it’s the equivalent of climbing Everest three times and you climb 26 mountains,” Perks said of the Italy race. “It’s basically four mountains a day, 50km a day.”

Preparing for adventure races are adventures in and of themselves for Perks and Rehn.

“We’re training our butts off for Tor Des Geants,” she said. “Every Saturday or Sunday we go for about a six-hour run or hike. For example, last weekend I went up to Banff and climbed Silver Mountain three times.”

Perks and her husband Michael, a millwright and the winner of the best new artist award at the Western Showcase of the 2011 Calgary Stampede, reside in the Okotoks area where they run a custom metal works company.

For more information on adventure racing visit http://sleepmonsters.com

rgreer@okotoks.greatwest.ca


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